Saturday, April 21, 2012

Talk Is Cheap

Audio from the sermon:

Check this out on Chirbit

Special thanks to Dr. Greg Brown (Twitter) (blog) for his insight. Also to Natasha Yar-Routh (Twitter) (blog) for opinion and insight mid-sermon. All of my sermons are group efforts, it seems.

I mention a church giving away cars and TVs in the sermon. Here's the link to that story. And yes, all of Christianity face-palms with you while you watch it.

Comeback Kid has a song called "Talk is Cheap." It has nothing to do with the sermon, but I like Comeback Kid, so...

1 John 3:1-7
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

Luke 24:36b-48
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Acts 3:12-19
When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

Wow, Peter. You certainly aren’t the same guy you were a few weeks back, huddled in terror in the Upper Room, choking on self-loathing for having denied Jesus three times. Clearly, something has happened.

Well, between the time of our Gospel reading, where they all get scared out of their socks, and Jesus has to prove he isn’t a ghost by eating a fish stick, and Peter’s sermon at the Temple in our reading from Acts, pretty much everything has changed.

The risen Christ has spent time with the disciples, commissioned them, has ascended to Heaven, and as they were all praying back in the Upper Room (no doubt with the doors open this time), the Holy Spirit descended on them all, empowering them to fulfill that commission to go and preach the Gospel to the whole world.

As you’re likely aware, Peter wasted no time getting busy – he preached a message that brought something like three thousand people to faith in Christ. Not bad for a guy’s first preaching gig.

Things are happening fast for the young church. It’s growing by leaps and bounds, in fact. And on this day, Peter and John are going to the Temple when they pass a beggar, a man who has been unable to walk since the day he was born.

I wonder what the man expected when he called out to Peter and John? After all, he’d been begging his whole life, over forty years. It’s all he could do, after all; not being able to walk meant he couldn’t do manual labor, and without a family member who was an artisan, no one would have been able to teach him to work with his hands. There were no social safety nets in first-century Judea, no subsidies or Medicaid or Social Security. All he could do was rely on the kindness of a couple of his friends to carry him to the Temple gate every day, plop him down, and let him sit for hours without food or water, asking for spare change from passersby.

I bet he’d become a pretty good judge of people by that time. He knew when to hold out his hand and expect a coin, and when holding his hand out would get it slapped. Beggars were, after all, a despised class of people. Jewish law stipulated that he couldn’t be run off without first being given money, but he was prohibited from receiving alms from non-Jewish people. So catching people in a good mood going into the Temple by way of the prettiest entrance was a good way to kill two birds with one stone.

So he saw Peter and John walking up, and might have thought, “An older man and a younger one. The older one might be a mentor, and out to impress his young charge. I might make enough with these two to buy bread!”

So he poked out his hand and asked for a gift. He kept his head down; no one asking for alms could be bold enough to make eye contact. The men stopped, and for a long moment said nothing. Then the older one said, “Look at me.” The beggar dared to look up into the kind eyes of Peter. Then Peter said words the beggar had heard a million times before – “I don’t have any money.”

I wonder if there was a moment for disappointment to set in, for the beggar to mentally shrug it off and begin to look for the next person to ask before Peter spoke again? No matter, because what Peter said and did then meant that, for this beggar, there wouldn’t be a “next person” to ask for alms.

“But I'll give you what I have,” Peter said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk.”

The beggar gasped as Peter grabbed the hand he’d been holding out for coins and pulled him to a standing position.

To a standing position!

The beggar stood. The beggar walked. The beggar jumped. The beggar danced. Stood, walked, jumped, and danced all the way into the Temple courtyards!

Needless, to say, this caused quite the commotion. The man may have been a beggar, but everyone knew him – he’d been right there, sitting with his atrophied legs and outstretched hand in the same patch of dirt outside the Beautiful Gate, for decades! The sight of him dancing, jumping, walking, the sound of his shouts of joy and praise, set the whole place running to see what had happened.

And that is where we pick up today’s reading from the book of Acts – Peter preaching to the awestricken crowd.

So why all this background? Why spend so much time on the stuff leading up to the reading? Why not simply talk about the important things that Peter says here?

To be sure, what Peter says here is powerful: he gives testimony to the power of God and the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, points out the injustice of His death at the hands of the Temple elite and calls the people to repentance – calls them to faith in the risen Christ.

But take away that beggar, and all you have is another guy shouting in the corner of the Temple courtyard. Remove the context, and as powerful as his words may be, they are only words.

And can I be honest? In today’s culture, where talk radio stations clog the airways, and every network has a plurality of celebrity talk shows, where everyone has a FaceBook or Twitter account, and where anyone with a computer can post anything they want to on a Tumblr blog or on YouTube, and saying this as someone who runs his mouth for a living, it has never been more true that talk is cheap. And the cheaper – and more venomous – the language, the wider the audience.

Now, please understand that I am not saying that Peter’s talk was cheap. Like the over 200 million Christians who endure persecution today in over sixty countries, Peter’s words are dangerous. In fact, in the next chapter of Acts, Peter and John are arrested by the Temple authorities, jailed overnight, and brought before the same group of men – the Great Sanhedrin – that had demanded the death of Jesus.

But I wonder if Peter’s dangerous words – words that brought five thousand people to faith in Christ that day – would have even been heard amid the din of the bleating sacrificial animals, the calls of the moneychangers and the conversations of thousands of people echoing off the courtyard walls, without that beggar?

Of course it all began with an encounter with the risen Lord. Of course it was all brought to life by the indwelling Holy Spirit. But without that action – the healing of the beggar – the words, as powerful and transformative as they were, would very likely have fallen largely on deaf ears.

Talk is cheap.

How do we, individually and as the Body of Christ, make the Good News of the Kingdom of God heard today? Is it enough to simply talk louder – write a book, issue press releases, get ourselves invited on talk shows, put all the right keywords on our blog so it shows up first in a Google search, offer free cars and flat-screen TVs to lure in new visitors (yes, a church in Corpus Christi did that for Easter last year)? Or should we get louder and angrier, waving protest signs and signing petitions and calling our Congresspeople and Representatives pushing legislation through to make the country look and act the way we want it to?

Funny, all Peter did was reach out and grab someone’s hand, and help them up. And he didn’t go looking for someone to help – he wasn’t at the Temple that day with John to do anything else than what every other good Jewish person was there to do that day. But in the midst of Peter and John’s everyday life, a need presented itself, in the form of a poor, crippled beggar.

And because Peter reached out, not only was that beggar’s life changed – not simply “restored,” but utterly transformed forever and for the better – but thousands more saw the results of that act of compassion, and as a result, heard Peter’s words and came to faith in Christ.

You and I have had our own encounter with the risen Christ. You and I have been commissioned by Christ. You and I have been empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

You and I have that same opportunity to reach out.

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